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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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STOKOWSKI - The Heart of the Ballet
Adolphe ADAM (1803-1865)

Giselle (1841) - Variation of Giselle; Mad Scene; Memory of the Love Scene; Despair of Löys; Finale Act 1 [4:16]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Le Spectre de la Rose (Invitation to the Dance, orch. Berlioz) [9:10]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Les Sylphides (orch. Leroy Anderson* and Peter Bodge)
Prelude in A major, Op.28 No.7*; Valse in G-flat major, Op.70 No.1; Mazurka in C major, Op.67 No.3 [5:00]: Grand Valse Brillante in E-flat major Op.18 No.1 [4:42]

Léo DELIBES (1836-1891)

Sylvia (1882) - Valse lente; Pizzicato [3:53]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Swan Lake Op.20 (1877) – Dance of the Swan Queen [4:58]: Dance of the Little Swans [4:57]
Nutcracker Suite Op.71 (1891-92) [22:30]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

L'après-midi d'un faune (1894)[10:19]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Ballet des Sylphes - from The Damnation of Faust (1848) [2:54]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. Manhattan Centre, New York, 1949-51
CALA CACD 0547 [72:44]


Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Nutcracker Suite Op.71 (1891-92) [22:30]
Sleeping Beauty (1890) as "Aurora’s Wedding" – one act ballet selected by Serge Diaghilev from Sleeping Beauty [42:03]
Humoresque Op.10 No.2 transcribed Stokowski [2:03]
Again, as before, alone (song) as "Solitude" Op.73 No.6 transcribed Stokowski [3:37]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. Manhattan Centre, New York, 1950-53
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9022CD [65:12]

 

 



The Heart of the Ballet was an RCA Victor set dedicated to propagating popular items for neophytes to the medium. As the agent of emancipation, elucidation and excitement they rightly chose Stokowski and his hand-picked Symphony Orchestra, players principally drawn from the desks of the New York Philharmonic. Together they set down an album of allure, sweep and curvaceous charm, all testifying to Stokowski’s effortless élan and command.

There’s some luscious pointing in the Giselle moments, all four minutes of them; Michael Rosenker, the associate concertmaster of the NYPO takes the solo role; I’d thought, wrongly as it turns out reading Edward Johnson’s characteristically fine notes, that the soloist here was Louis Gabowitz. Le Spectre de la Rose receives a sweeping and dramatic reading; cellist Laszlo Varga is spotlit and one can hear Robert Bloom adding his own distinguished patina to the soundscape. Les Sylphides was orchestrated by Leroy Anderson and Peter Bodge. It’s full of charm but it’s certainly not for the purist who would doubtless wish to disdain the Hawaiian rubato and naughty Chopinesque etching.

There are two excerpts from Swan Lake – the Dance of the Swan Queen and the Dance of the Little Swans. John Corigliano is the violin soloist here, oboist supreme Bloom reprises all his familiar virtues, Laszlo Varga too; the clarinettist is David Oppenheim. For The Heart of the Ballet album there was only room for the Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker; fortunately soon afterwards Stokowski recorded the whole suite, a work he’d first recorded back in 1926. We hear the whole thing here and as ever strong soloistic personalities are fashioned by Stokowski into playing of plangency, personality and brilliant panache.

The Debussy comes from an earlier 1949 session but its presence here won’t be accounted a misfortune. Stokowski’s languor and evocative fashioning is splendid though I happen to find flautist John Wummer’s vibrato excessive. We end with, in effect, an encore in the shape of the Ballet des Sylphes from The Damnation of Faust.

Stokowski discographers and collectors will like to note the following; this is his only recording of the Giselle and Les Sylphides; that there’s an (unpublished?) Hollywood Bowl 1946 recording of the Sylvia extracts but nothing else. The major works here he recorded multiply.

The companion disc reviewed is by Cameo Classics and it too presents the Nutcracker Suite, adding "Aurora’s Wedding", which a one act ballet selected by Serge Diaghilev from Sleeping Beauty. I’ve reviewed the performance in Cala’s own restoration and you can read the review here.

This new Heart of the Ballet disc has not been transferred from the master tapes but from commercial copies. It sounds, in that hackneyed phrase, beautifully mellow and warm. The Cameo Nutcracker has been rawly transferred from an LP with attendant pops and ticks. And yet for once I’m rather disappointed by the Cala. Warm it may be but it lacks immediacy and definition. The sound is rather dull and artificial reverberation has been added to no advantage. The running pizzicati of the March for example don’t ring out, and the harp glitter is muted in the concluding Waltz of the Flowers. Too much top has been muzzled and subsumed into a mid frequency haze. The Cameo Classics is very much warts and all but it rather graphically shows what has been done to the Cala Nutcracker.

Jonathan Woolf

Information received

Jonathan Woolf is incorrrect in saying that he'd previously reviewed Stokowski's performance of "Aurora's Wedding" in Cala's own restoration. That was quite a different recording to the one just issued by Cameo Classics, whose CDs are run off singly to order, rather than mass produced. Stokowski's second recording of the work was made in London in 1974 for CBS/Sony by the 94-year-old conductor and licensed for release on the Cala label. The earlier mono RCA Victor New York version was, as stated in the heading, made in 1953, and is as splendid as the stereo re-make.

Edward Johnson

 


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